“Perhaps God’s only act is to make manifest the divine love. Is that not enough?”

Unknown woman at a Quaker meeting. Quoted in Philip Clayton, Adventures in the Spirit

Explaining the Magic

“Sometimes talking about an idea can ruin it. Explaining the magic drains the magic’s power. And the best things are always secret, the right hand left in the dark. You talk in the closet. You lift your brightest thoughts to God from the deepest swamp, where the ground floats and the sumac is poison. The Bible says it is to be so, none of this crying in the streets or spiritual materialism. Trungpa says it is to be so. When things are explained, they are taken away. Sometimes being given form is taking away beautiful formlessness. And when a thing is spoken (or indeed written) it disappears.”

From Eumaeus & the worm, “Carrying Beaver Teeth to Heaven.”  I highly recommend reading it all.

Industrial Yolks

Back in September I blogged about how you can tell a natural egg from an industrial egg by the color of the yolk (HERE).  Sailorssmallfarm mentioned in a comment that industrial chicken farms have been adding marigold petal powder to change the color of their egg yolks.  I’d never heard of that.

Recently a customer sent us an article from the Wall Street Journal called “The Hunt for a Perfect Egg,” which discusses how scientists are trying to “improve” industrial eggs by manipulating the ingredients in the chicken feed to enable them to make various health claims about the eggs. The article is fascinating and it’s worth a read.  On the subject of yolk color, it includes this paragraph:

Over the years the company tweaked the feed recipe to boost vitamins D and B-12 and added marigold and alfalfa meal to increase lutein—a nutrient found in green leafy vegetables that can give yolks a bright yellow, not orange color. A small group of consumers prefers the farm-fresh look an orange yolk conveys and it is favored by many Hispanic shoppers, but “we want nationwide consistency,” on color, says Mr. Slaugh.

So for now they’re sticking to adding paprika to the feed in order to “achieve a bright yellow–but not orange–yolk that mainstream customers prefer.  Marigold and alfalfa meal have proved too orange and too expensive.”  I think the emphasis should be on the last two words of that quote. My guess is that cheap feed matters more to them than a supposed preference among “mainstream customers” for yellow yolks.

But if “mainstream” customers really do want their egg yolks to be bright yellow, that’s only because they’ve become accustomed to what factory-produced eggs look like and conditioned to believe that’s the way they’re supposed to look.  Real natural eggs (the kind favored by “a small group of customers who prefer the farm-fresh look”) have orange yolks.   And hens that forage freely produce eggs with orange yolks, without having to be fed marigold meal.

The bottom line is that while yolk color is still a pretty good indicator of egg quality, it’s only part of the story.  Taste is the way to know for sure.  Scientists just haven’t been able to make a hen in a cage lay an egg that tastes as good as a free-ranging hen.  At least not on cheap feed.

As I’ve said in many prior posts, don’t be fooled by the bogus claims on egg cartons.  If you buy your eggs in a grocery store, then they’re almost certainly produced in a hellish factory.  Find a local farmer who raised hens naturally and get your eggs there.  Once you get used to the taste of a real egg, you’ll never want to eat the other kind again.

Asian Veggies

I’ve come to really enjoy growing Asian vegetables.  We grew a few things last year then added more this year. We’ve found them all to be well-suited to our climate and soil, and delicious to boot.

This year we grew mizuna, several varieties of pac choi, Tokyo Bekana, senposai, tatsoi, Yukina savoy, and a couple of varieties of Chinese cabbage.

We grew mizuna in the spring as an experiment and it was a great success. We planted it by seed and it came up reliably and quickly.  It is a very prolific cut-and-come-again veggie.  Here are a couple of recipes that we enjoyed.  Mizuna in Korean Dressing.  Mizuna with Steamed Red Potatoes and Goat Cheese.  It’s also great raw in salads.

Pac choi (also known as bok choy) is great in stir fries.  It too is hearty and easy to grow.

Tokyo Bekana looks a lot like leaf lettuce, but it has a mild version of the distinctive mustardy taste of Asian greens.  We treated it like lettuce and enjoyed it in salads.

Senposai is like collard greens, but a bit sweeter and milder.  We enjoyed it in salads, soups, sauteed and as a cooked green.  It can be used any way collards can be used.  I discovered this one through Pam Dawling who speaks very highly of it in her excellent book Sustainable Market Farming (highly recommended).

Yukina Savoy is a like a larger version of tatsoi.  We usually put tatsoi in salads or stir fries.  You could do that with Yukina Savoy as well, of course.  Cherie cooked it in a soup that was amazing.  Here’s the recipe:  Chickpea Soup With Tomatoes and Greens.

Our Chinese cabbages (sometimes called Napa cabbages) were excellent.  We grew Michili and Blues.  They grew to whopping sizes and were delicious raw, right out of the garden.  We found that they keep extremely well in the fridge, which is great since it takes a while to finish one.

In addition to being delicious, Asian greens and veggies tend to be nutrient-dense.  There are lots of health claims being made about their value in preventing illness.  They may or may not be true.  It’s a well-known fact that cancer rates are much lower in Asia where these kinds of veggies dominate diets, but whether that’s because these veggies prevent cancer or because the standard Western diet causes it, or some combination of those things, I can’t say.

As much as we’ve come to love these veggies, getting people to try them has been a bit of a challenge.  For the most part those who do end up coming back for more.

I got the catalog from Kitazawa Seed Company this year. They specialize in Asian Veggies and Greens and the catalog is full of enticing possibilities.  I plan to add another thing or two this year.

Thinking of spring planting on a winter morning…

This is Crazy

I just read an article discussing the increasing problem of how the criminal justice system deals with the mentally ill in Florida.  Consider these amazing comments from a judge in Miami:

“On any given day, we have 18,000 prisoners, 10,000 local detainees, and between 25,000 and 40,000 on probation and community control with a serious mental illness in Florida. And this year, we are expecting 7,000 inmates with serious mental illnesses to be released from the prison system,” he said.

“The consequences of untreated mental illness are overwhelming. As a result, we’ve seen homelessness increase; we’ve seen police injuries increase; we’ve seen police shootings with people with mental illnesses increase.

“We are wasting critical, critical tax dollars in the way we do things. And in some ways, we’ve made mental illness a crime. Last year, the police in Florida actually initiated more Baker Act cases than the total number of arrests they made for robbery, burglary, and grand theft auto combined,” Leifman said.

The Florida Mental Health Institute at the University of South Florida is doing a study in Miami-Dade County, where there is the highest incidence of mental illness of any urban area in the United States, at almost three times the national level, Leifman said.

About 9 percent of the general population in Miami-Dade County suffers from a serious mental illness, he said: around 170,000 adults and 55,000 children.

“We wanted to see how we could do a better job to wrap our arms around this population to make sure that they weren’t continuously reoffending,” he explained.

Through blended computer sites, FMHI has looked at criminal records, Baker Act records, and Medicaid records to size up who is most involved in the criminal justice system in Miami-Dade County.

“To my shock, they sent me a list of 97 individuals. These 97 individuals, almost primarily men, almost all diagnosed with schizophrenia, over a five-year period were arrested 2,200 times. They spent 27,000 days in the Dade County Jail, 13,000 days at some type of crisis center or psychiatric facility.

“The cost to taxpayers was $13 million. And we got absolutely nothing for it! Ninety-seven men! I guarantee these 97 are in every single community in Florida. The key is for us to figure out how we target these high utilizers who are killing our deep-end system. This is the reason we need problem-solving courts — to really attack that problem.”

If you think that’s bad, Leifman said, here’s the story on the forensic hospital side. Florida spends between $200-$250 million a year — almost a third of its adult mental health dollars — to restore competency for about 3,000 people.

“It’s growing so fast that, if we don’t do something to change this system, by the year 2027 we will need to spend about three quarters of $1 billion to try to restore competency to 3,000 people,” he said.

Of those whose competency has been restored, he said, 70 percent are coming back to the local jail.

“These 70 percent have three things happen to them: They either have the charges dropped because the witnesses have disappeared, after you have spent $60,000 to $70,000 on them; they get credit for time served, because we are trying to get them through the criminal justice system, and they walk out the front door without any access to treatment; or, three, they get put on probation and maybe get some access to treatment.”

As one of Leifman’s colleagues often says: “It meets the definition of insanity.”

“We keep doing the same thing again and again, and we expect a different outcome,” Leifman said. “It’s not working.”

In Florida’s state prisons, the mental health population grew by 160 percent between 1996-2012, compared to the overall non-mental health population growing by 56 percent.

“We went from about 6,700 inmates 10 years ago with serious mental illnesses to almost 18,000 this year,” Leifman said.

“It is growing so fast that it is now projected that if we don’t do something to change the trajectory, over the next 10 years this number will be close to doubling. And it will cost Florida almost $3.5 billion over the next 10 years just to house people with mental illnesses in the prison system….”

See the whole story here: http://www.floridabar.org/DIVCOM/JN/JNNews01.nsf/RSSFeed/C2729BF949577C1B85257C2E0048EA93

Many if not most homeless people suffer from mental illness.  Often they’re arrested, given a short sentence then released.  Then they go back to living under the same bridge until they’re arrested again.

I don’t know what the answer is (or even if there is an answer) but clearly we have a problem.

If Possible

Every day we should hear at least one good song, read one good poem, see one exquisite picture, and, if possible, speak a few sensible words.

Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe


As a follow-up to yesterday’s post I was going to share a photo of our buckwheat cover crops. But despite taking lots of photos of the gardens this summer, evidently I didn’t take a single picture of the buckwheat. That’s too bad.  It’s a beautiful plant, topped with white flowers and always abuzz with honeybees and other pollinators.

Cover crops just don’t get the respect they deserve.

They’re very important on farms like ours for maintaining fertility and organic content.  We use no synthetic nitrate fertilizers so we depend upon nature to help us keep the soil healthy. Bare soil is never a good thing on an organic farm.  We aim to have roots in the soil as long and as often as we can, unlike our chemical farming neighbors who’ll turn the soil over with plows in anticipation of spraying it with herbicides in the spring. They aim to keep the soil dead except when their cash crop is growing (and then they want only that to be growing).  It’s a totally different paradigm.

Buckwheat is a summer cover crop.  It prefers hot weather, germinates easily and emerges quickly.  It does a good job of weed suppression and when we till it under it adds organic matter to the soil.  Bees love the blooms.

Because it is not a legume, buckwheat doesn’t fix nitrogen in the soil, however.  We sow clover in the fall (usually mixed with winter peas and rye grass) to give us a winter/spring cover and to add nitrogen.


This was our watermelon garden this year.  Next year it will be planted in fall brassicas.  In the meantime we’ll grow clover, till that in this spring and then plant buckwheat in the early summer.  All will go back into the soil to enrich it and keep it healthy.  Ideally this garden would have a tall stand on it now, but the deer mowed it down.  A close up look, however, shows that the clover is still there.


Maybe next year I’ll remember to get some pictures of the buckwheat.